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Monday, July 12, 2010 


(This is a continuation of yesterday’s entry on Robert Childress’s Lewis & Clark Circus. Periodically over the past decade various circuses have lamented the unhealthy state of the circus “industry” in the US – blaming everything from increased regulation, to fuel costs, to an aging demographic amongst traditional sponsoring organization. Business for traditional mudshows has further declined with the growth of Hispanic circuses, and a plethora of towns “burned” by ticket gouging and a trail of unpaid bills. Lewis & Clark is a wonderful example of a small regional mudshow that both works and earns. Photo from show website. My camera malfunctioned..)

… Spending several seasons here and there dealing with sponsors the conundrum presented by a weak sponsor who sells few advance tickets has in my own experience proved vexing. With a poor presale, day-of-the-show box office is held hostage to local demographics (in farming communities in the west the Hispanic audience may turn out even in the face of weak presale) and to strong phone sales. No significant phone sales, no farm workers, and no serious presale and it’s difficult to fill seats. The Lewis & Clark system using free childrens ticket lay downs in every community, even those with a strong sponsor balances the scales and promotes the show without expensive media buys.

 Lewis & Clark innovates. A great “system” works season after season because general protocols are repeated every day, while at the same time the best systems are flexible, improving equipment and the way that jobs are handled when something better comes along. Many private vehicles on the show rely upon personal generators for power much of the day and night – or on city power when its available. Small generators appear to run even the bunkhouse. The show itself can therefore run off a smaller genset, and run for fewer hours. This represents both an upfront savings in acquiring equipment and a downstream savings in daily costs. Compact florescent light bulbs illuminate the camel ride on the midway. While that may not seem like a big deal, CFLs consume a quarter to a third of the power required by holagon lights or conventional bulbs. With the plethora of new CFL bulbs on the market in a variety of designs, and with prices for CFLs falling it’s more than theoretically possible for a show, particularly a smaller show to consider using only florescents, cutting wattage requirements significantly. Smaller power footprints translates into smaller power plants. In seasons down the road some small shows could consider traveling without trailer/truck mounted gensets, running off only portable power units and flying beneath the onerous electrical regulations associated with states like Washington, and Minnesota.

 It’s been said that a circus is an excuse to sell popcorn, or balloons, or coloring books. Though some “critics” are put off by traditional “pitches” during a circus performance, short, humorous pitches for inexpensive items rarely seem to offend circus-goers enjoying a good performance. On the Lewis & Clark Circus pitches for light-up wands and swords, coloring books, peanuts, snake pictures, and balloons never get in the way of the well balanced show. Credit to the framing of the performance, enhanced by better than average lighting – and credit to this year’s announcer Becky Ostroff who makes the pitches fun. Like the midway offering, the pitches illustrate that Mr. Childress is serious about leveraging revenue possibilities without being heavy handed. Audiences leave Lewis & Clark feeling good about the circus.

Ultimately visiting Lewis & Clark is a pleasure, reminding anybody who has slogged through the mud that traditional tent shows can and still do work surprisingly well with proper attention to detail, customer satisfaction, merchandising possibilities, and watching the bottom line.

Enjoy reading your observations as always, Ben. See that KM is in western (??) New York, according the week's dates posted on the show Web site.
Are you going to be able to catch it? Am sure you'll want to BBQ w-America's Own.

Hi Ben:
Since you frequently discuss the advance (or lack thereof), I wanted to share this wonderful line used by Hatch Show Print of Nashville:
"Advertising without posters is like fishing without worms."

-- Paul

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About me

  • I'm B.E.Trumble
  • From Everywhere, United States
  • Ben Trumble works in circus, carnival, and media relations
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